With nine weeks of the high school football season under everyone's belts, there is still plenty to be decided for several of the Green Meadows Conference teams, starting with the team in the driver's seat, the Hicksville Aces.
A week after grabbing sole possession of first place in the conference with a win over Edgerton, the Aces will go for the league sweep on Friday when they head to Sherwood to take on the Fairview Apaches. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs, already assured of a week 11, will try to bounce back after a tough loss when they take on a Tinora team that has not lost since week 4.
"We realize what is at stake," said Hicksville coach Lucas Smith, whose team is 7-2 overall and 6-0 in the GMC. "We are exactly where we want to be, we have a chance to do something that has not been done at Hicksville in 35 years, outright GMC champs. We also have a chance to be playing week 11 which has only been done three other times in school history."
For the Aces to win the GMC outright and put themselves in the best possible position for a playoff spot in the strong Division V, Region 18, they will have to stop a Fairview team that is more than capable in putting up points in a hurry and potentially squashing the playoff hopes of the GMC front-runners.
The 4-5 Apaches (4-2 GMC) will also look to get to .500 and build some more confidence for the non-seniors as they head into the off-season.
"Regardless of the record it is a huge rivalry game and I expect both teams to play at the top of their game," stated Fairview's David Robinson. "We will go to work this week just like we do every other week preparing to put together the best possible game plan offensively, defensively and special teams. It is important for us to get a win to end the season on a positive note. "
Andy Guilford has proven to be a huge weapon for the Apaches, a team that comes in averaging almost 32 points per game.
Guilford has thrown for 2,336 yards on 171-of-309 passing and 19 touchdowns and has added 1,064 rushing yards on 149 carries with 16 scores.
Combined with weapons like the speedy Matt Tobin (43 receptions, 904 yards, 11 TDs), Isaac Valle (42 catches, 519 yards, 2 TDs) and Brandon Bostater (27 catches, 396, 5 TDs), the Aces' defense will again be tested by a team with several weapons spread across the field.
"Guilford is a great athlete, he can make plays with his legs or with his arm and he also does a good job of spreading the ball around to other receivers besides Tobin," said Smith. "Tobin is fast and a really good wide receiver, kick and punt returner. We realize that we won't be able to stop them completely, but we need to limit the number of plays they make."
Hicksville's Austin Michael (45 tackles, seven sacks), Zac Stoll (40 tackles, six sacks), Joe Contreras (61 tackles), Josh Kline (46 tackles) and Tyler Monroe will again rotate in up front and try to contain Guilford similarly to what they had to do against Edgerton's Brody Flegal in week 9.
The Apaches, who have given up more than 40 points in their last two games, will have to try to stop a Hicksville offense which is manned by a three-headed running attack in quarterback Justin Miller (103 carries for 653 yards) and running backs Seth Klepper (113 carries for 716 yards) and Kaleb Johns (53 rushes for 508 yards), with Nick Hart (11.18 yards per carry) also able to step up when his number is called.
"This will be a huge challenge for us defensively," Fairview's Dave Robinson said of facing Hicksville's run-first attack. "We will have to be very aggressive and disciplined to take away their running game and if we can do that we will then have to stop the pass."
Miller has also thrown for 984 yards and 14 touchdowns, although only needed to toss the ball three times in week 9.
Fairview's Jeffrey Timbrook has amassed 109 tackles and six sacks to lead the defensive unit, with Valle (81 tackles) and Lorne Rossman (79 tackles, two sacks) also among the team's leading tacklers.
"The keys to the game for us will be to stop their offense and special teams and execute our offense to perfection," said Robinson. "I don't think we have put together a game this year where we have played flawless on both sides of the ball and special teams and this would be a good week to accomplish that goal."
While Hicksville will be playing for an outright league title and their playoff hopes, the game between Edgerton (7-2, 5-1 GMC) and Tinora (7-2, 5-1 GMC), as far as the league is concerned, will be a battle to stay in contention should Fairview knock off the Aces.
Edgerton already knows it will be in the Division VI, Region 22 playoffs, but is still fighting for a home game and at the same time trying to build some momentum after falling to Hicksville one week ago.
"Playing well on Friday would be big for our guys," remarked Edgerton coach Ben Wilhelm. "Sometimes knowing you will have another game week 11 will motivate and sometimes it will cause you to come out flat. We are going to have a great week of practice, focus on the task at hand, and improve on our deficiencies from last week."
After struggling to limit Hicksville on the ground, the Bulldogs defense will again get tested in a similar way as they will have to deal with talented runners Kipp McCann (1,457 yards on 168 carries, 20 TDs), Marshall Gerschutz and Kurt Kahle.
Tinora has scored 203 points in its last five games, all victories.
Offensively, Edgerton is facing a defense which has given up only 13 points in the last four weeks with two shutouts in that stretch. The Rams are led on defense by Brad Bodenbender's 93 tackles and Kahle's three picks.
"Tinora is a successful program and coach (Kenny) Krouse knows what he is doing," said Wilhelm. "Offensively, we have to be able to put consistent drives together, something we were unable to do last week. Defensively, slowing down their run game will be a priority. Special teams ... we simply need to improve on the details."
The Brody Flegal-led Bulldog offense is dangerous all across the field, where the quarterback has shown he has no problem making plays with his arm (106-for-174, 1,922 yards, 23 TDs) or his feet, where he has rushed for 239 yards but has also bought time for his receivers to get open with his ability to scramble in the backfield.
Jimmy Radabaugh is one of several other weapons for Tinora's defense to deal with. The senior has rumbled for a team-high 953 yards and 21 scores and has caught 17 passes for 413 yards and six scores while Nathan Stark has pulled in 49 passes for 870 yards and nine scores.
Edgerton is currently in the fifth seed in Region 22 and a victory could propel them into a first -round home game.